Of Moths And Men Hardcover – Aug 27 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
Journalist Hooper offers an engaging account of H.B.D. Kettlewell's famous field experiments on the peppered moth, which were widely known as "Darwin's missing evidence," proof of natural selection in action until 1998, that is, when biologist Michael Majerus showed Kettlewell's findings to be falsified and wrong. Hooper peers into the lives of Kettlewell and his mentor and eventual adversary, the imperious and brilliant E.B. Ford, revealing the human factors that don't get written into the research papers "recriminations, intrigue, jealousy, back-stabbing and shattered dreams." Ford, a Darwinian zealot hell-bent on proving natural selection, serves as a foil for the broader questions raised here about dogmatism in science. Natural selection had the dubious distinction of being as widely accepted as it was short on evidence, and the moth experiments were greeted as a pivotal victory; indeed, despite evidence to the contrary, many scientists today still embrace Kettlewell's findings, in part because denying them opens the door to "the bogeyman of creationism." As Hooper writes, the peppered moths provided "a damned good story, a narrative so satisfying, so seductive, that no one can bear to let it go. But a story alone is no substitute for truth." Hooper's lively history also traces the extinction of old-school natural history, embodied by Kettlewell, who was very much left behind with the synthesis of Darwinism and Mendelian genetics, and who died a suicide.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Recalling challenges to Mendel's statistical data or the veracity of the Piltdown man, this book places another scientific icon on the slippery slope of suspicion. The peppered moth said to have adapted its coloring to fit the environment, thus insuring its survival has been used to validate Darwin's theory of natural selection for almost 50 years. Now, this classic textbook case is being contested. In this absorbing historical account, reporter Hooper (The Three-Pound Universe) tracks initial efforts to meld Darwinism and evolutionary theory. Among the many contributors to this quest were Darwinian fanatic E.B. Ford and his protg, outstanding lepidopterist H.B.D. Kettlewell, who performed the legendary experiment with light and dark moths that supposedly caught natural selection in the act. In fact, there have been doubts about the peppered moth experiments for the past 20 years or more, and Hooper shows how the scientists inadvertently sought to confirm their belief in natural selection rather than actually testing the hypothesis, changing methods when results did not agree with the selection hypothesis. As Hooper ably demonstrates, our understanding is molded by subjective as well as objective factors; self-interest, personality, contrasting worldviews, and human foibles influence the construction of scientific tests and the interpretation of evidence. An engaging detective story that elegantly brings the characters to life; suitable for public and academic libraries. Rita Hoots, Woodland Coll., CA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
[E]very scientist I know who has worked on melanism in the Peppered moth in the field still regards differential predation of the morphs in different habitats as of prime importance in the case. The critics of work on this case and those who cast doubt on its validity are, without exception, persons who have, as far as I know, never bred the moth and never conducted an experiment on it. In most cases they have probably never seen a live Peppered moth in the wild. Perhaps those who have the most intimate knowledge of this moth are the scientists who have bred it, watched it and studied it, in both the laboratory and the wild. These include, among others, the late Sir Cyril Clarke, Professors Paul Brakefield, Laurence Cook, Bruce Grant, K. Mikkola, Drs Rory Howlett, Carys Jones, David Lees, John Muggleton and myself. I believe that, without exception, it is our view that the case of melanism in the Peppered moth still stands as one of the best examples of evolution, by natural selection, in action.
Hooper, however, presents the peppered moth case as if it were falling apart, a story which of course the press reviews have uncritically repeated.Read more ›
This is as engaging a book as you will ever come across. Judith Hooper is a terrific writer who has something to say to anyone remomtely interested or associated not only in science, but in pride and belief and truth and faith.
There is a review below (from a reader in Paris, France!) that has it all bang-on. You're left with many questions after reading this book. Is an idea/theory only as good as the people behind it and the examples they proffer? Are all scientists misogynists or liars or manic-depressives?
Hooper humanizes this sordid tale, and even with the tragic bits we can celebrate the triumph of scientific review. Debunking and revisionism are loaded terms, but as long as they're driven by a pursuit for the truth we should all be on the same team.
Let's remember evolution now, OK?
Even if moths did have a propensity to rest on tree trunks where enterprising birds could pick them off, what does that have to do with the grand unifying theory of evolution? Yes, certain phenotypes have better chances of getting you killed than other phenotypes, but does that explain speciation? The peppered moths have nothing to do with speciation.
And Of Moths and Men have nothing to do, essentially, with evolution. It has every thing to do with the natural tendency of human beings to believe what they want to believe, and this desire will drive us to do just about anything, including play with moths.
The troubles with this are many-fold, and the author deserves credit for bringing them out so clearly. She notes for example, that the peppered moths had already been offered up in the 1890s to the Darwinists, but they had then rejected the example since they knew that birds donÂ¹t eat these moths. In fact bats are the major predators, since the moths are only active at night and during the day rest under branches of trees where birds canï¿½t see them.
The case history was created by the Darwinists of the mid 1950s through careful fudging of experiment design and the author lays out the case for this conclusion. She even has checked the weather records to see if a change in conditions could have caused the abrupt change in the results observed in the field in the critical experiments, and finds that the weather was very stable.Read more ›
In 1953, Bernard Kettlewell started the experiments to give numbers to the speculation that melanic moths were being naturally selected. He was a brilliant amateur moth expert, a tall, loud man, full of boisterous enthusiasm for his work, but the loudness hid deep insecurity.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
I've been reading Nature for over 30 years, primarily for articles of medical or chemical interest. Each week the News and Views section attempts to explain papers appearing in... Read morePublished on June 21 2004
This is a very well done account of the peppered moth story, with a useful history of the emergence of the Synthesis in the background. Read morePublished on Dec 14 2003 by John C. Landon
While the bulk of the book was interesting but had little actual bearing on the veracity of evolution, the scholarship aspect took a dive when I realized that Hoopper had relied on... Read morePublished on June 4 2003
Peppered moths of England were the most renowed insects in the world, featured in nearly every scientific textbook and acquiring fame through a British physician and amateur... Read morePublished on Jan. 6 2003 by Midwest Book Review
Like many others, I was convinced of the power of natural selection via the peppered moth story in introductory college biology. Read morePublished on Dec 2 2002
The story is fascinating and Judith Hooper has reported it with clarity and wit. The writing is elegant and engaging. Read morePublished on Nov. 28 2002 by Frances Salorio
The spate of negative reviews of this book all seem to say the same thing:
1. The peppered moth study that most evolutionists still cite as evidence are actually fakery, that... Read more
The book describes a controversy among biologists about famous experiments on moths. The British scholars Bernard Kettlewell and E.B. Read morePublished on Sept. 17 2002 by Werner Cohn
In this seamless narrative, veteran science journalist Judith Hooper reveals the startling truths behind a broadly held scientific fable. Read morePublished on Aug. 30 2002 by Frank